Gold Mountain…book review #19

On Gold Mountain.
By Lisa See

on gold mountain

Quick Plot:
Fong See, the family patriarch, immigrated to the United States just after the completion of the railroad around 1870. The fourth son in a family of five, his name means fourth son of Fong, well those immigration officials didn’t get it, and so his family name became See. He had two wives in the US, one a white woman, and two in China. And if I were going to hinge my story around a central character I don’t think you could make up someone better than Fong See.

Why Not:
It’s really long. And there’s lots of names and characters…..easy to get lost
Great history of Chinatown in L.A. Well crafted history of an immigrant family….good family gossip!

I’m really impressed with On Gold Mountain, considering that the last time I had to read something that was 400 pages it was for a class, and I’m pretty sure I didn’t finish it. Lisa See had to keep up a good pace to carry a reader through 400 pages of family history. All things considered, this book could have gone horribly wrong. It’s got a huge cast of characters that reads like a phone book, and part of the plot is focused around immigration policy. Normally, it’d spell disaster for anyone less talented. But See has done a couple things really well.
First, she’s picked a part of American and Chinese history that you don’t normally find in such a read-able form. Chinese immigration was a couple sentences in my history text in ninth grade, and that was BEFORE standardized testing eliminated history and social studies from the curriculum because it wasn’t on the end of year test. See has pulled out the important bits of legislation, politics, and history and given them faces. It’s easy to read about how China closed it’s borders, See talks about what that meant for her family. How they could no longer rely on yearly buying trips to fill their stores. How the other family in China couldn’t receive money from the United States.
I’ve touched on it briefly, but the second element that makes this book such a good read: family history. These stories are GREAT family gossip. You’ve got jealous brothers, money squabbles, greedy family members, and scandalous marriages all taking place against a clash of traditional Chinese values and the American dream.
The amount of research See has done is tremendous. Considering that finding reliable records of immigrants would have been exhausting, See has interviewed several family me members and would have to piece it all together. But more than the family history, she’s pulled together an excellent history of the Los Angeles Chinatown.


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